The Power of Analogies for Imagining and Governing Emerging Technologies

Claudia Schwarz-Plaschg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

11 Citations (Scopus)


The emergence of new technologies regularly involves comparisons with previous innovations. For instance, analogies with asbestos and genetically modified organisms have played a crucial role in the early societal debate about nanotechnology. This article explores the power of analogies in such debates and how they could be effectively and responsibly employed for imagining and governing emerging technologies in general and nanotechnology in particular. First, the concept of analogical imagination is developed to capture the explorative and anticipatory potential of analogies. Yet analogies do not simply stimulate imagination, they also restrict it by framing emerging technologies in specific ways. Thus, second, the article argues that tracing the rhetorical and persuasive power of analogical arguments is essential for understanding how analogies are constructed to legitimise assessments, funding policies, and governance approaches. Third, the article addresses factors that account for the persuasiveness of analogies in debates about emerging technologies. The article concludes with reflections on how analogical imagination and an enhanced analogical sensibility for framing and persuasive effects can foster responsible research and innovation (RRI).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-153
Number of pages15
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 01 Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Analogy
  • Anticipation
  • Emerging technologies
  • Imagination
  • Nanotechnology
  • Responsible research and innovation (RRI)
  • Rhetoric

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy
  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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